Bitterwood by James Maxey

Rating 7.7/10
Fast-paced sword and sorcery action combined with some unexpected science fiction.

Bitterwood has spent the past twenty years hunting down dragons, one at a time. But he is getting old and the hate that he has carried in his heart since a group of dragon-soldiers killed his family is beginning to fade. When he kills the royal prince dragon, the king decides the only retribution is genocide of the human race. Bitterwood is forced to enter the Free City, the grand trap designed to eradicate mankind, with thousands of others. Can he lead from within, or can a select few dragons unite to stop the king's madness from becoming reality.

When I read that Solaris were to release a new dragon series from James Maxey I visited the author's website and found that James Maxey had previously written three books in a series entitled The Dragon Age Trilogy. The first book in the series, Bitterwood, struck me as a nicely different take on the traditional sword and sorcery novel in that the synopsis mentioned that the humans are ruled over by dragons. Often in fantasy dragons are the mighty and all-knowing allies of the humans, elves, etc. and this new take on the relationship really appealed to me so I requested a review copy.

The world in which Bitterwood is set surprised me. I thought - from the synopsis - that Bitterwood would feature a medieval setting where dragons ruled as kings and the character Bitterwood a vigilante exerting revenge upon his oppressors. I got was more than I bargained for. The medieval setting indeed in place for the first three quarters of the book but after that there was a twist. Suddenly there was a chapter where the history of Bitterwood's character was revealed, and in this chapter Maxey introduces a lot of information about the dragon age and how it came to pass. In Bitterwood Maxey has merged classic sword and sorcery fantasy with high end science fiction (genetic engineering and nanotechnology) and when the science fiction was first introduced I had mixed feelings, I wasn't expecting it at all, I felt a bit put out but I kept on reading. And this is a strength Maxey's writing: once you're into it, the book becomes very hard to put down.

Bitterwood is told mainly from the perspective of the dragons that rule over the humans (humans are the slaves and pets of the dragons). Although the majority of the dialogue is between dragons - with the humans featuring in their opinion as the bad guys - I found it difficult to empathise with the dragons. I think this was part due to their personalities being too bold and distant and they all seemed too similar. The humans were much more likeable.

There is never a dull moment in Bitterwood, if there is no action Maxey throws in a plot twist that you didn't expect. I got a certain vibe after reading Bitterwood and I think that this is the message the author intended: “Here you have it, you either like or you hate it”. Bitterwood was for me enjoyable enough, and is in itself a well rounded story with a nice start and finish. Maxey continues The Dragon Age Trilogy with Dragonforge and I'm curious to find out where the story will be picked up from. Bitterwood is ideal for readers who like fast-paced sword and sorcery action combined with a totally unexpected science fiction setting.

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